Okay now, a question for you for a bonus point: What’s the connection between the minimum wage, the idea of “race suicide,” of all those racist responses to the refugeee crisis (“they’re oubreeding us!”), and to the rise and the appeal of that man pictured above.
Got it yet?
To give you one big clue from which you might get all the rest, I’ll let Leonard Thomas explain the first part of it (from his recent highly-recommended book Illiberal Reformers: Race, Eugenics, and American Economics in the Progressive Era), beginning with the rise of turn-of-the-century Progressive reformers “during the brutal re-establishment of white supremacy in the Jim Crow South.” The re-establishment of white supremacy was intended, argued these economic “progressives,” to maintain a higher level of wages for whites by legally excluding black would-be employees from competing with them.
Progressive economists [also] provided essential intellectual support to the cause of race-based immigration restriction, which, in the early 1920s, all but ended immigration from Asia and southern and eastern Europe. Such progressive exemplars as Richard T. Ely, John R. Commons, and Edward A. Ross promoted an influential theory known as race suicide, Ross’s term for the notion that racially inferior immigrants, by undercutting American workers’ wages, outbred and displaced their Anglo-Saxon betters.
The same theory— that so-called unemployable workers were innately disposed to accept lower wages— was readily adapted to apply to African Americans, the disabled, and women. The leading lights of American economic reform advocated regulation of workers’ wages and hours to bar or remove the unemployable from employment, on the grounds that their inferior nationality, race, gender, or intelligence made their economic competition a threat to the American workingman and to Anglo-Saxon racial integrity.
It is important to understand that the progressive campaign to exclude the inferior from employment [in practice, only white men of Anglo-Saxon background escaped the charge of hereditary inferiority] was not (merely) the product of an unreflective prejudice. Progressive arguments warning of inferiority were deeply informed by elaborate scientific discourses of heredity. Darwinism, eugenics, and race science recast spiritual or moral failure as biological inferiority and offered scientific legitimacy to established American hierarchies of race, gender, class, and intellect.
Bigotry has always liked to borrow a veneer of intellectual backing, even as it dreams up forms of legal exclusion.
And thus, with these self-titled Progressive economists was born the idea of a minimum wage: to permanently price out of the market non-white inferiors who would otherwise “outbreed and displace their Anglo-Saxon betters. (Thomas Sowell can tell you much more about that, if you want more.)
At the same time was born the banning, if possible, of non-white immigration.
As Simon Nelson Patten observed, “the cry of race suicide has replaced the old fear of overpopulation” “Race suicide” was a Progressive Era catchphrase, coined by the captious Edward A. Ross to describe the theory that races compete, and racial competition is subject to a kind of Gresham’s Law (that is, bad heredity drives out good).
Workers of inferior races, because they are able to live on less than the American workingman, accept lower wages. American workers refuse to reduce their living standards to the immigrant’s low level, so, in the face of lower wages, opt to have fewer children. Thus did the inferior races outbreed their biological betters. The low-standard or undercutting-of-wages part of the theory got its start with the violent activism of white Americans against Chinese immigrant workers. … If wages were determined by living standards rather than by productivity, then the meat-eating Anglo-Saxon could not compete with the Chinese worker accustomed to rice. …
White labourers, unable to “live upon a handful of rice for a pittance,” could not compete with the Chinese, “who with their yellow skin and strange debasing habits of life seemed to them hardly fellow men at all but evil spirits, rather.” …
The most serious threat from immigrants, [social worker] Robert Hunter wrote [in his influential tome ‘Poverty’], was not their tendency to pauperism and criminality but their higher fertility. More immigrant children threatened the “annihilation of the native American stock,” and with it American freedom, American religion, and American standards of living. …
Suicide, annihilation, displacement, invasion, and murder— this was the language of American scholars warning of race suicide.
This was the language of professional ‘progressive’ economists who are still feted today like Irving Fisher, John Bates Clark and the neanderthals to whom they offered house room.
You can hear in this the squalid fear that motivates both today’s race-suicide advocates fearful of Muslim fertility outbreeding good white European stock (as if race alone were the predictor of a person’s ideas), and today’s anti-free-trade zealots fearful of outsourcing “good local jobs” to low-paid Chinese workers accustomed apparently to just a handful of rice in their pay packet.
So, do you have the answer yet?
What links them both in the present American election campaign is one Donald J. Trump, harnessing both these ignorantly bigoted notions in his fatuous promise to Make America Great Again by building walls, banning trade, and generally excluding and expelling from the once-great country the very people and the ethos that attracted them that once helped to make it so great.
These are things that Donald Trump is saying that make his supporters say they are the things that most need to be said. Things that really should be unspoken and unsupported because they are both unsupportable and unspeakably vile. It needs to be said in response that these things are foul beyond words. They were when first floated, and they are even moreso now.
Born in bigotry and and fashioned by the economic progressives so well skewered in Leonard Thomas’s book, who would have thought a modern-day presidential candidate for the once-grand party that once freed the slaves would not just resurrect these fetid notions, but float them out there to (apparently) coast to victory in his party’s primaries.
We are living in interesting times.
But we do not have to accept either the intellectual viruses that gave them birth – or the people who help to spread and incubate them.